Thousands of Egyptians are in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today to celebrate former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last Friday.
Meanwhile, Eight Egyptian judges and lawyers are in their third day of meetings to amend the country’s constitution. They were appointed by the Supreme Council of the military, which heads the government.
Egypt watchers say this panel is a strong sign the military will keep its promise and push the country towards democracy. But some fear this marks a new era of military rule.
All day, Military bands have been playing patriotic songs and handing out flags.
For many Egyptians, the army has a special status: it ousted the monarchy almost 60 years ago and has just put an end to 30 years of autocratic rule.
New York University Middle East studies professor Zach Lockman says that’s why some Egyptians are willing to overlook the bad stuff.
“They are not thinking about the part where the soldiers stood by and allowed the thugs to attack the demonstrators,” he said. ”And the military itself has picked up lots of people. We don’t know where they are.”
Lockman says its possible this revolution could go south—the way the 1952 military coup did. Then, promises for democracy gave way to rule by one autocratic general after another.
Mubarak team is still in place. His defense minister, Mohammed Tantawi now heads the Supreme Council which appointed the constitutional panel.
In one of the diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks, “civilian analysts and academics” are quoted as calling Tantawi “Mubarak’s poodle.”
Barnard College political science professor Sheri Berman points out that history doesn’t show many successful transitions from autocracy to democracy.
“The military will come in a period of disorder as the only well functioning national institution and often times promise to turn over power, but then not do so,” she said.
But this time could be different. Three Mubarak-era ministers were arrested thursday including one responsible for the brutal crackdown on protesters.
And the constitutional panel includes an outspoken member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a Coptic Christian.
They are considering presidential term limits, judicial supervision of elections and easing the way for opposition parties.
All this makes Lockman think military rule is only temporary.
“I suspect that they are serious in not wanting to be running things indefinitely,” he said. “They want to protect their position, they want to make sure things don’t get out of hand, but they don’t want to run things day-to-day.”
The Egyptian military already has a lot to run: it provides janitorial services and child care, and produces everything from exercise machines to fertilizer.
It’s estimated that as much as one-third of Egypt’s economy is under military control, but the army’s actual revenue is a state secret.
The U.S. provides just over one and a third billion dollars in military aid to the country each year.
Berman says the military could turn things around, as long as the protesters stay involved.
“What we have to hope here is that the head of steam built up by the protests will keep the military committed to that timeline that they have given, and that elections will actually be held and that a transition will actually occur,” she said.
The crowds in Tahrir square suggest that Egyptians won’t let up on the military anytime soon.